At the height, or depth, of the mortgage crisis, sometime last week, my cousin Charlie, a smart guy who fell on hard times and lost his home of twenty-one years to a bank a year earlier, scared the pants off an entire bank full of bankers.
His house had stood empty for a year after the bank unceremoniously threw him, his wife, their three children, the dog, the cat, and two goldfish out on the street. The dog, the cat, and the goldfish all found homes in short order. Charlie and his family, not so much: they lived in their van until last week when it broke down.
Of course Charlie’s story sounds pretty much like the All American story up to that point. No work, no money, no home. But then Charlie did something revolutionary, something unheard of.
“I moved back into my damn home. I tore down the bank signs and moved my family back under the roof I paid for,” Charlie told me while we waited for the bank guy who had threatened to throw him out again. “I mean what are they going to do? Throw me out in the street again?”
The bank guy showed up wearing bluejeans and a flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up.
“Man of the people,” Charlie said. “Man of the people.”
The bank man walked past Charlie and me and tacked a piece of pink paper to the front door. Then he motioned Charlie over.
“See that,” Bank Man said. “That says you can’t stay here.”
Charlie peered at the paper.
“You can read, can’t you?” Bank Man sneered.
“Sure can. Been reading all my life.”
Then Charlie fired the shot heard round the neighborhood. He tore the pink piece of paper off the door and handed it to Bank Man.
“You can’t do that,” Bank Man said, stepping back from Charlie.
“Sure can. In fact I can do whatever I want on my property.”
“It belongs to the bank, not you.”
“Really? In that case you won’t mind producing the mortgage documents.”
Bank Man pulled a piece of paper from his notebook and handed it to Charlie.
“This is not a mortgage,” Charlie said. “All it says is that the bank made a mortgage.”
“Well this is good enough. It will have to do.”
“No it won’t. I am in possession of my home. You are trespassing.”
By now a small crowd of neighbors had gathered and were muttering Charlie on.
“And furthermore you’ve vandalized my property by nailing that pink paper to my door.”
“I didn’t nail it. It was a tack,” said Bank Man, edging off the porch. “You have to leave or I’ll call the police.”
“Bring it on!”
In short order six police cars arrived, lights flashing, sirens wailing. That was three more police cars than showed up for the double homicide two blocks away a year ago.
The lead cop, a small fellow who looked like an accountant and a lawyer rolled into one neat package in precisely creased pants, questioned Bank Man and then Charlie.
When he finished he eyed Bank Man’s flannel shirt and jeans, and said, “You’re a real man of the people, aren’t you?”
“Never mind. Let me see the mortgage papers, please.”
Bank Man handed him his sheet of paper.
The cop read it and handed it back. “You have to produce the mortgage, sir.”
“But that says there is a mortgage. It’s perfectly legal, officer.”
“Well, sir, I’m a lawyer and an accountant, and that paper is not sufficient. Now, where is the mortgage?”
Bank Man shuffled his feet.
“No paper? Then you can’t kick this man out.”
“Well where’s his paper, huh, where’s his paper?”
The cop turned to Charlie, who handed over a sheaf of utility bills and other proofs of residence.
The cop said to Bank Man, “He’s shown me his. Are you going to show me yours?”
Bank Man stared up at the sky, shuffled his feet again. “Ummm, we don’t know where it is.”
“Then you have to leave the property until you can produce it.”
“We can’t produce it. We sold it to several thousand people in a securities instrument.”
Charlie piped up, “What’s that, like a tuba? Like a tuba full of bull.”
The cop shushed Charlie.
“Well, Mr. Man of the People, when you get all those thousands of people to produce their piece of the mortgage we’ll see about how to handle this situation. In the meantime, you are trespassing and Charlie here is to all intents and purposes the owner of this property.”
Bank Man sputtered, “Now wait a minute, just wait, you can’t do that.”
“Perhaps you need help finding your way to the street?” the cop said, nice as pie with a gun.
Bank Man scooted away in his bank car, narrowly avoiding a ticket when he squealed his tires.
Charlie thanked the cop, his wife brought out coffee for all the cops, and Charlie continues to live in the house with his family. It was rumored that the bank executives were going to picket the house, but when they showed up they were outnumbered by neighbors at about two hundred to one. They left in a hurry in their fleet of limousines.
Charlie figures it will take at least a couple of years for the bankers to deal with the courts. In the meantime he’ll bank his mortgage payments in an escrow account. He’s also thinking, perhaps wishfully, perhaps not, that by the time the courts have a decision the executives will be in jail and the bank will be out of business.
Of course, by then no one will know who owns the house. In the meantime Charlie has a roof over his family’s head, and he’s going to try to reclaim the dog, the cat, and the goldfish. At least they aren’t mortgaged.